How Wreck League is bridging F2P gamers and building a sustainable web3 esport

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In the latest episode of his Blockchain Gaming World podcast, editor-in-chief Jon Jordan talks to nWay Games’ CEO Taehoon Kim about Wreck League, the NFT-based mobile PVP mech build-and-battler that launches its Season One on 14th September in conjunction with Yuga Labs.

In particular, Kim discusses how Wreck League has been designed to create a sustainable esports economy, while also bridging web2 gamers and web3 players, NFT owners and IP holders.

This transcription has been edited for length and clarity. Can you give us some background to nWay?

Taehoon Kim: My name is Taehoon Kim. People call me TK. I’m the co-founder and CEO of nWay. I started nWay in late 2011, and the goal at the time was to bring competitive multiplayer games to emerging platforms. That was a time when gaming was going more mass market. Before that it was mainly consoles and PC and then companies like Zynga and Playdom were bringing like casual games to new platforms like browsers.

We wanted to bring the type of game that we loved to these emerging platforms and we also wanted to have people play real-time competitive games on whatever device that they have. We started with a game called ChronoBlade, which was the first action RPG game with real-time PVP that ran on a browser, mobile and also on smartTVs and devices like Ouya.

A lot of people were asking ‘Why are you making these type of games for those platforms?’ But now, it’s obvious, right? People want to be able to play with friends, and your friends are not necessarily going to have the exact same device as you, so cross-play is now the norm, but back then, people didn’t really understand it.

And then you released your first big hit Power Rangers: Legacy Wars.

It was the first fighting game that was PVP-only on mobile, which a lot of people told me was suicide. A mobile game that’s PVP-only would never work out. We had really low expectations, maybe 5 million lifetime downloads but we ended up getting 6 million downloads over the launch weekend. Now we have over 90 million downloads. Clearly people like to play with other people, especially with friends, so it worked.

How did you get into blockchain?

We are always looking at new technologies to try to innovate how games are played and to try to bring new type of experiences or new ways to monetize. Competitive fighting games are notoriously hard to monetize unless you get to massive scale. 

With blockchain, we were very intrigued by the fact that you can give away assets to the community and the community can own some of these assets, truly own them, and then be able to trade and generate revenue through transaction fees and things like that. So back in 2018 when OpenSea was starting, we wanted to create our own marketplace called NWay Play for our own games. That was the idea at the beginning. 

We launched Olympic Game Jam, where people could trade NFT pins and that’s how we got our feet wet into web3. We were early stage at that time, but we now have a lot of learnings and think we know how to really do this.

What’s the concept behind Wreck League?

We’ve been working on fighting games for more than 10 years now and we’ve worked mostly with IPs like Power Rangers and WWE but there are a lot of limitations on what we can do using external IP. 

So we thought we should create a game that’s more of a platform. We looked at games like Super Smash Brothers, which use different IP. Even when those characters don’t look like each other, it’s okay to be in the same world. We wanted to create a game with a story of our own that explains why there are multiple IPs involved so that we can have a lot of different integrations. 

We also wanted to make this into a first web3 game where instead of having a set roster of fighters, all the fighters are user-generated. Then every time you’re playing, it brings some new experience, some unexpectedness and that would help with retention; that would help with the game being more fun. 

So we came up with the idea … I was in Disneyland and we went to the place where you put together these parts to build a droid and that clicked. I was like, ‘Why don’t we do something similar?’ There could be mech parts and then you put them together. Depending on the parts you used, it will fight differently. Everybody will have their own fighter. 

It felt like it was a really good fit with web3, because web3 is all about the technology of ownership. People want to be able to own what they create. We also decided to make all the parts into NFTs themselves and then when you combine them and assemble it, the mech also becomes an NFT. If people can create and own something and then compete with it, that’s more meaningful than just choosing a fighter and playing. It would make it more special, make it more fun.

Animoca Brands [nWay’s owner] is also an investor in Yuga so Yat [Siu, the chairman] introduced me to Gordon and Garga, the founders of Yuga Labs, two and a half years ago and they’d played our games in the past. They also wanted to do a fighting game. They liked the concept of mechs. They’re big anime fans. And they were about to launch ApeCoin. 

So we decided to do an integration, collaborate on this game and also make this into an ApeCoin project so that ApeCoin has utility in our game. That’s when we announced that little teaser (below).

But games like this, especially the games with multiplayer components and online components, take a long time to build. We’ve been building this game for two years now so it’s been a long time coming.

What’s the reception been like?

I’m very happy with the reception so far. It’s been very well received, I think because we were able to showcase the game and it’s triple-A quality. There’s never been a real-time fighting game in web3 before and the whole concept of building your mech, everything that we’ve showed off to the community, the people who are into it are super excited.

They can’t wait to build their mech. They can’t wait to get into these matches and go into the tournaments. We’re doing a lot of new things. There are people who are very intrigued and excited about some of the things we’re bringing onto the table. So we’re going to grow this community together, we’re going to experiment, we’re going to try new things and see how things go from there.

I really like the way mech owners will be able to sell web2 versions of their mech NFTs to the F2P players.

The real value of the mechs are going to be from customization. If you study how the parts work and study how different part combinations do different combos then that’s where the value will come from because people are going to want to use it for the web3 competitions. But also when we have the web2 version that comes out later, gamers are going to want to buy those mechs.

This is a new concept that we’re excited to try out. People who are able to create good mechs are going to be able to sell a lot of these via the in-game store for the web2 version of the game. You can publish a non-NFT version of your mech in the in-game store for the web2 game and there’s no limitation as to how many copies you can sell.

You will be rewarded for creating something that gamers are going to want. Because there are over 1.5 quadrillion combinations of parts, so we don’t know what the best recipe is. We do 50% rev share to the owners, so it can be pretty significant.

How does the esports economy work?

There are two pillars in terms of how value is generated in Wreck League. We just talked about the first and the other is game events, tournaments and competitions so web3 esports. If you’re able to build a good mech and if you’re good at the game, then you can play tournaments and get coins, win NFTs and start earning.

With web3 we can bring in parallels from the real world. If you look at motorsports, there are people who own the cars, people give the edge in how the cars perform. There are professional drivers, team owners, arena owners, tournament owners. Many different types of revenue generation happens, and there are many different types of stakeholders in the ecosystem. Something similar can happen in web3.

For example, we’re creating arenas in Wreck League that people will own and run their own tournaments, set the entrance fees, and then a portion of the entrance fee can go to the arena owner so we’re trying to design a system where there’ll be different stakeholders. 

People who are really good at the game can partner up with people who have the best mechs and share in the earnings. Then there are people who may be able to create franchise businesses on top of the brand and have shops and factories and arenas. This is exciting because you’re bringing in new experiences and new concepts to the digital world that haven’t existed before the advent of the web3 technologies that allow people to own digital goods.

How does the off-chain/on-chain aspects of the game work?

When you’re playing the game, everything’s happening off-chain. The only thing that’s on-chain is the assembly of the mechs and that’s happening outside the game app. That happens on our website.

We’re going to have a garage feature on the Wreck League website and that’s where you are able to try different combinations. It may cost a gas fee to assemble or disassemble your mech back into parts, but even if you look at web2 games, they add friction to crafting so that people put in some thought into what they do.

What’s the plan in terms of future IP collaborations?

It’s very important for games-as-a-service to continuously have new content and features. This is something we’ve learned over a decade of servicing these games. 

This is season one – a collaboration with Yuga Labs. And the Yuga Labs collaboration is for integration of four of their collections – Otherside Koda, Mutant Ape, Kennel Club and Bored Ape Yacht Club.

Our mint one was based off the Koda collection. Mint two – sometime in October – will be for Mutant Apes and Kennel Club and then maybe in November we’ll have the Bored Apes. Then we’ll announce season two, probably next year, which will be a totally new partner, new collaboration, new set of IPs.

How do you think Wreck League is different from other blockchain games?

I think we’re at a point where we have to introduce games with blockchain components that drive value in a different manner than we’ve done in the past, where a lot of it was speculative or not sustainable. The way we’ve set up Wreck League is the web3 part is mainly driven by competitions and esports and you don’t need a big community for that.

We need people who are owners, people who are creating good mechs so we can start off with a small community. A community who are into investing their time and resources to create the best mechs, get really good at the game and compete and win different type of prizes. 

The web2 version of the game, which is going to launch in 2024, it’s not going to require any NFTs to play. It’s going to be a full-blown free-to-play game. We’re going to launch this to gamers, similar to how we’ve done in the past with all the UA tactics that we’ve done for our Power Rangers games. 

We’re expecting millions of people to play that game and we’re trying to create a synergistic relationship between the web3 players and web2 players, because gamers are always wanting more content, and developers can’t catch up with their consumption. 

Gamers want to be able to create something, they want to own it, and they want to be able to monetize it. Now they can create new content and by creating this kind of symbiotic relationship I think we can position ourselves to grow together. When you create something that’s value-driven, people can actively do something to impact value generation instead of it being passive.

How does the bear market affect what you do?

I think the best projects get built in the bear market and a lot of the fluff goes away during this time and projects like ours get more attention. There’s less competition. So we’re really hoping that Wreck League can be a brand that really is synonymous with one of the biggest brands in the web3 esports.

How we do things in the world of competitive gaming can be a little bit different and have a lot of innovation that will excite a lot of people to join the world of digital ownership.

Keep up-to-date with Wreck League, which launches on 14th September, via its website.

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